Spas have been around for centuries, and in places that we might not even recognize. One ancient spa sits in Bath, England, where the Romans constructed large buildings to house the natural sulfuric waters. The Romans believed the waters held healing powers that would help any ailment. Today, spas are built in places using the same basic principles: to relax and rejuvenate their clientele. But the philosophies and techniques have grown and broadened. Spa owners have reached far beyond just a location with great water to maximize clients' potential for relaxation and healing.
That doesn't mean you have to fly across the world to find the right spa. "We're about an hour and 15 minutes from Toronto, which has a population of about seven million in the greater Toronto area," says Jim Corcoran, owner of Ste. Anne's in Grafton, Ontario. "People are coming here to recover from the stress of living and working in that environment - in a very efficient time frame. You don't need to travel to Europe ... you can get out of the city and very efficiently rejuvenate yourself with the spa services, and get back on your mark in just a couple of days."
Rural areas are beneficial for full-service spas, since the fresh air and privacy help in the relaxation process. Corcoran says that Ste. Anne's originally started as a bed and breakfast. It evolved into a country inn - the property became known as "Ste. Anne's Country Inn"- when it started offering three meals a day. The spa services followed. "Back then I really didn't think we could call ourselves a spa," says Corcoran. "Now we are definitely a spa before we're a country inn or a bed and breakfast."
A Gamut of Spas - Which One Is Right?
Accommodations around the world are making that same transition, offering both lodging and a full-service spa. This rapid gain in popularity is due in part to the desire for healthy living and an increased interest in spirituality. When once it was more common for celebrities and people "with money" to visit a spa, it has now become a retreat for everyone, especially in urban areas where day spas are prevalent. Clients can make an appointment for the same day from a hair appointment and manicure to a facial or massage. If a quick fix is all you need, an urban day spa could do the trick; but many times people need a little more time away, a retreat from their hectic schedules, and that can take some planning.
Spas bill themselves as destination spas, day spas, medical spas, and resort and health spas. Just like looking for a doctor, not every spa is going to be right for you. If you're like a lot of people, you might not even know quite what you want from a spa. Relaxation? Weight loss? An outdoor, town, or country experience? A spa that will help address a medical issue? The research you do and the decisions you make will affect the outcome of your spa experience. Finding a spa to suit your needs may require some effort, but the results are gratifying and may last long after your spa experience is over.
Discovering A Spa's True Benefits
Ste. Anne's, one of six Aveda-destination spas in North America, is clearly at the forefront of a trend in the spa experience that departs almost completely from the spa's origins as a place centered around healing waters. "We are intent on the fact that all of our treatments are human-touch based," says Corcoran. "The therapist is always in the room with you participating in the treatment. The effectiveness is in the energy of one human being flowing into another, and that can't be replicated with the intervention of machinery. When you indulge in spa services that are given lovingly from one human to another, it tends to free the mind and body and you become a better social human being. You can just be able to spend time with people. When (the services) are coming to you, a living organism, from a living organism, and with positive intention, you have generally a positive outcome."
This concept is simply stated, but Corcoran says that it must be learned over a period of time. Most people have the common misconception that a spa and its staff serve you, when in fact it is a symbiotic relationship. "We stay away from the idea of 'pampering.' To me, the word really suggests that somebody else is doing something to me," he says. "Rather, I am using these resources to release the healing power that I have within my own body and soul. In every human interaction there is give and take. If a therapist is actually doing the work there is an exchange of energy, which is where the healing process starts to bubble up in both the therapist and the client."
Time, Patience, and a Little Bit of Help
It's not that people misunderstand the purpose of a spa; it's that learning to use the resources can be highly individual and require a more developed self-awareness. "To get the benefits of a spa experience, you have to work your way into it," Corcoran says. "A seven-day spa retreat to start out with might be too jarring. You need time to say, yes, this makes sense, this works and I understand why it works." It is this immersion in the spa's holistic mentality that truly rejuvenates guests. Corcoran says those who visit the spa religiously understand what a true spa experience can do. But, those clients are still a relatively small part of the market. The people who are learning, or those who are just trying out the spa experience, are the biggest challenge. "Those are the toughest ones," he says. "They might come for a treatment but maybe not realize the investment. They don't really know how to wind down and relax and just take it in. They require more education and more coaching on the art of relaxation and the art of self-healing - the value of positive human-to-human interaction."
That is not to say that this coaching has to take the form of a military boot camp. "It's not 'in your face,' but it's certainly there," Corcoran says. "And it underlies what we do. All of our staff is hired from the local community. They don't have the idea that they are superior or gifted in some special way. That, in its own right, is refreshing, to find people who are open to giving. And that, combined with food that's lovingly prepared, with good intention, and fitness - really more programs like country walks or meditation or pilates - will help to bring the mind and body into line with each other." That is what Ste. Anne's tries to do with every client. "I tend to believe that we all have this innate knowledge within our bodies and minds and it's a matter of releasing that knowledge," Corcoran says. "The power of healing comes from within. And we help engage that.
"So it's more along the lines of empowering. I am going to empower your innate ability to heal yourself. And that is going to trigger sort of a domino effect - you will be a better partner to your spouse, or a better parent to your child."
Ste. Anne's represents a new, human-based understanding of what a spa is: A way to rejuvenate and reconnect with the body and mind in an environment that is beneficial to both the clients and the staff. Finding a spa that's right for you can be a trying. But, once you're there, allowing yourself to really relax and discover what's inside you - that is where the real challenge lies.